Big, Unified Communications for Small Companies

Although you won’t be able to buy it until early next year, Siemens Communications, Inc. has announced HighPath OpenOffice ME, its brand new, built-from-the-ground up unified communications (UC) appliance for small businesses.

According to Martin Northend, Siemens director of SME portfolio marketing, an appliance translates as “an IP PBX with a UC application suite and some smart mobility features, all bundled into one with a lot of pre-integration to Microsoft Outlook—ready to go, out of the box.

“We’ve spent an awful lot of the development budget on making it easy to install and easy to use,” Northend said “We think we’ve got a user interface that will be pretty intuitive for people. But the other side of the coin is the install and the engineering side of the box. You just put it in the rack, plug it into your network, and away you go. It comes with some default configuration, but it does need the intervention of an engineer [read VAR] to fine tune some of that,” he explained.

First, here’s look at the aggregate feature set:

In addition to basic IP voice capability, HighPath OpenOffice ME consolidates messaging—e-mail, voicemail, fax and instant messaging — with presence information — and provides not one but two conferencing applications plus a number of ingenious “mobility” features, along with call recording, call logging and a personal (as well as company-wide) Auto Attendant. As mentioned, OpenOffice ME is not only highly integrated, it is specifically integrated with the Microsoft Outlook client, which can serve as a full user interface — an alternative to the native user interface and configuration manager, a piece of software called MyPortal.

Northend waxed enthusiastic about HighPath OpenOffice’s presence feature set, and the degree — as well as the downright ingenuity — of its interaction with Outlook. “It scans the user’s local Microsoft [Outlook] folders for calendar appointments — diary entries that have key words in them like meeting or lunch, and it will automatically change your status in HighPath OpenOffice directly out of your calendar,” he said.

“So, let’s say, the clock kicks over from 9:00 to 10:00 on a business day, you go into a meeting. HighPath OpenOffice will know you’ve gone into a meeting, and it will automatically change your default call routing to whatever you’ve set up to be appropriate under the status in Meeting. Along with that, with the personal attendant, you get the option to give a caller up to ten options — Press 1 to go to an operator, 2 to go to voicemail, 3 to go to an assistant, and so on.”

Each of the Auto Attendant features comes with defaults, which you can override with your own choices, with personalized recorded messages. But the defaults are more than adequate, Northend pointed out. “The default greeting would say something like, ‘Sorry, so-and-so is in a meeting until 10:30’; that is, it will give some indication of when the meeting is going to be over as well.”

HighPath OpenOffice’s conferencing capability includes one simple application that can be driven from the handset, and another “almost idiot-proof” graphical application that lets you set up conferences of up to eight participants by dragging their icons into a representation of a meeting room. Conferences can be ad hoc (individually scheduled), or prearranged on a recurring basis. The application places calls to the participants (but also allows a conferee to dial in), and notifies the conference organizer of any unreachable participant.

HighPath OpenOffice’s mobility features help set this UC solution apart from the competition. According to Northend, Siemens engineers developed a number of different mobility “profiles” for different groups of users and added features to help them do their work according to their habits and movement patterns.

“All users get a one-number service that allows them to call-forward that number to pretty much any phone,” Northend said. “But we’ve also got a WLAN [i.e., Wi-Fi] phone capability to support a profile we call Office Roamers. We will be putting IP DECT capability on in the coming 12 months.

“It’s got a couple of ways of integrating to the mobile phone for the road warriors,” he added. Besides simple “twinning ,” where an incoming call rings both a desk phone and a mobile, you can use a mobile to “dial into the system and get dialtone for toll bypass.” That is, you call the central switch, which then places the call—and receives the billing. At the very least, this relieves you of having to submit an expense request.

But it gets even better. There’s an application in MyPortal that lets you access HighPath OpenOffice, enter a location and a target phone number, whereupon the switch forwards all calls to that device. “But more importantly,” Northend explained, “it lets you make outgoing calls. You use the HighPath OpenOffice to establish the call. It will place a call back to you. When you pick up, it will then establish the second leg of the call, dialing out,” again billing the central switch.

The HighPath OpenOffice appliance is essentially a Linux PC running pure IP/SIP software, that will support up to 50 users. (For larger companies with up to 150 people, multiple appliances are daisy-chained together.) The system will connect with any SIP phone (and, of course, the built-in softphone), but, as Northend observed, it will offer richer functionality with Siemens phones.

Pricing is estimated to be around $270 per seat. Each physical appliance comes with 20 user licenses, and to increase the number of users, customers simply purchase additional licenses. “One of our goals was to make pricing pretty linear, so you have rough and ready way of knowing how much it’s going to cost,” Northend explained. “We’ve really tried to minimize the number of items in the price list for this.”

As mentioned, HighPath OpenOffice will not be available until 2008—approximately January in the U.K., February in North America.

Adapted from

Do you have a comment or question about this article or other small business topics in general? Speak out in the Forums. Join the discussion today!

Must Read

Get the Free Newsletter!

Subscribe to Daily Tech Insider for top news, trends, and analysis.